...for in a severe test of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their profound poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For according to their means, I can testify, and beyond their means, spontaneously, they begged us insistently for the favor of taking part in the service to the holy ones, and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and to us through the will of God...
As he does in other letters, Saint Paul writes to the Corinthians asking for money to support the church in Jerusalem during a famine.
By the time of Saint Paul's writing the Jews had been scattered from India to Spain for many centuries; and their appeals to one another for support were an ancient custom. Their religion taught them to assist the widows, orphans and aliens among them first in Judea and then in whatever city or village they found themselves. (We heard the Book of Tobit recently attesting to that pious custom in Assyria.) They also maintained with their pilgrimages the temple in Jerusalem and the families of priests who served in its sanctuary.
The only thing unusual about Saint Paul's appeal to the Corinthians was their gentile background. I don't suppose these former pagans felt any urgency to assist strangers in faraway places until Paul asked them. By way of encouragement, he tells them he was astonished by the "wealth of generosity" the Macedonians demonstrated when he had asked their support. He subtly challenges these Greeks to outdo the Macedonians!
Notice how he describes the Macedonian collection: "...they begged us insistently for the favor of taking part in the service to the holy ones, and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and to us through the will of God."
Apparently, their immediate response to the crisis was to go "first" before the Lord in prayer. And then they accosted the Apostle, "What should we do? How can we help?"
They want to suffer with their fellow Christians in Judea. They probably feel an enormous debt of gratitude to the Church in Jerusalem. The Christians missionaries started from there on their way to "the ends of the earth." Corinth, a major port of Greece, was among the first European cities to hear the Gospel. They had heard stories of persecution in Jerusalem, of the beheading of James and the stoning of Stephen, not to mention the crucifixion of Jesus! How can we give back? they should ask. How can we share their trials?
Saint Paul knows their zeal is the work of the Holy Spirit. He had told them the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection; he had shared with them the rites of Baptism and Eucharist; but the Holy Spirit animated their prayer, their joy and their generosity.
The Church is still animated by that Holy Spirit as we support the churches in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Egypt as they suffer religious persecution. We know that drones, rockets and bombs cannot protect them but they will find encouragement in our prayers and our financial help.